EVERETT—Summers on the Williamson family’s eight-acre homestead in southeastern Minnesota are occupied with activities such as riding ATVs, whacking golf balls around a makeshift course and throwing baseballs into a piece of plywood nailed on the outside of a shed.
The Williamson family estate in Martin County, Minnesota, has been passed down through five generations. It’s 80 acres total, although the other 72 are rented out as farmland. The Williamsons’ home is the only house on Clam Lake.
Williamson grew up in the middle of three small towns in rural Minnesota, but his family’s property has a Welcome address. Welcome is a town of about 750 people. There’s a gas station, a post office and a whole lot of open land.
“Everybody knows everybody, and I love it,” Williamson said. “It’s what I knew growing up and I miss it. I honestly miss it. I love home.”
Williamson didn’t rise through showcase tournaments or the travel-ball circuit. He attended one showcase event, but he didn’t showcase much. The lanky, 6-foot-5 lefty was lucky to reach 80 mph with his fastball in those days.
What Williamson did have was good, old-fashioned high school baseball in the spring, and in the summer American Legion and “town ball,” where residents of the area, mostly high school and college kids, competed for their towns against others in the area.
That’s where North Iowa Area Community College coach Travis Hergert first saw Williamson.
Hergert said Williamson wasn’t his discovery alone. An alumni of NIACC who was playing town ball with Williamson tipped Hergert off.
Hergert came to a game to see Williamson and what he witnessed was a project: A tall, athletic left-handed pitcher with a downhill delivery and potential.
But second-round, just-a-shade-under-$1,000,000-signing-bonus potential? No way.
Williamson accepted an offer from Hergert to walk on at NIACC and give baseball a shot.
Williamson’s rise from project to prospect wasn’t instantaneous. He added a couple mph to his fastball, but that’s it. Hergert even put one of Williamson’s bullpens from his freshman season on Youtube. It features that low 80-mph fastball. Hergert, ever the jokester, listed the category as “comedy.”
“He had kind of the makings … during his freshman year that this kid could be really special, but never in my life would I imagine that he’d be a second-round pick and pitching in the Big 12 and signing for what he did,” Hergert said. “I couldn’t have imagined that in my life. I’m glad he did and I’m super happy for him.”
Williamson’s struggles in the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer wood bat league in the Midwest, marked a turning point. He compiled a 6.43 ERA in nine games, eight starts, and posted a 1.29/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“That was my first time really seeing solid lineups,” Williamson said. “There are solid lineups in the leagues I was in, but nothing like seeing division-one players throughout whole lineups. I was pitching to high school kids in the middle of nowhere Minnesota the year before that. I really had to learn to throw different pitches and how to use them and how to prepare. I really learned how pitching works, not just how hard can I throw.”
Entering his sophomore season at NIACC, Williamson decided to go all-in on baseball.
“He came back to me and said ‘I need to work every day like I’m going to be a big-leaguer,’” Hergert said. “And that to me is when he flipped the switch.”
During his second year at NIACC, Williamson intensified his throwing program and adapted some principles from Driveline — a data-driven baseball performance training facility based in Kent that’s well-known for increasing pitcher’s velocities with unorthodox methods.
By the next season, his fastball was eclipsing 90 mph. He made a commitment to Michigan State University, and professional scouts started keeping diligent tabs on the southpaw.
But as Williamson’s velocity ticked up, his body deteriorated.
Specifically, his hips. Williamson threw his back out dunking a basketball the night before a game and was late to the team breakfast the next morning. Laying on the floor because he was unable to tumble into his bed, Williamson called Hergert and told him why he was late.
Hunched over, Williamson went to the chiropractor that morning and pitched seven innings for the Trojans that night.
In the offseason, doctor’s discovered torn labrums in his hips. He underwent double hip surgery in the fall, which did wonders for his pitching motion, allowing for a more fluid and athletic delivery.
Williamson eventually backed out of his commitment to Michigan State after pitching coach Skylar Meade left for South Carolina. At that point, Williamson had his mind made up: He was going to get drafted, sign and start his professional career.
But Williamson’s journey was never that simple.
On the day of the Trojans’ regional tournament game against Kirkwood Community College during his sophomore year, Williamson’s mother, Twyla, was driven in an ambulance to the University of Iowa medical center, where she was diagnosed with multiple biloma, a form of cancer in the abdomen.
Williamson, who had committed to TCU, decided it would be best to spend the summer with his mother, so he deliberately set the price tag of his signing bonus too high. He was taken in the 36th round by Milwaukee, but opted to stick with his commitment to TCU.
Williamson got a loan from his grandmother to cover the extra costs at TCU and quickly landed himself in the Horned Frogs’ weekend rotation. He showed enough to warrant a $925,000 signing bonus from the Mariners, according to MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis.
It’s under the $1,185,500 slot designation for the No. 59 overall pick, but enough for Williamson to repay his grandmother and assist his parents with their finances.
Initially, Brandon wanted to follow his older brother Josh’s footsteps and join the Marines. He’s glad he chose baseball instead.
“I feel like every spot I went held a purpose,” Williamson said. “Everywhere I went, I loved it and it benefited me and I was with awesome people that constantly wanted me to achieve my goals. Especially my parents. They sacrificed everything to help me try and achieve my goals. When everyone said it was just a dream, they saw it as a reality, just like I did.”
Hergert lauded Williamson for his ability to stick to his humble roots but, truth be told, the coach helped keep the rising star’s feet firmly planted on the ground.
One such instance is now an inside joke between the two.
During his freshman year, Williamson showed up to practice with his shoelaces casually loosened. He remembers thinking it was a cool look.
“Listen, man,” Hergert said, “if you want to play at the next level, you’re going to have to tie your shoes.”
When Williamson was drafted, amid the countless congratulatory texts and voice mails was this message from Hergert: “Hey, if you want to continue to play in professional baseball, you’re going to have to tie your shoes.”
If all goes the way Williamson and the Mariners hope, that won’t be the last time Hergert will be sending a congratulatory message to his former player.
“I still think there’s another jump in him,” Hergert said. “I think the best is yet to come.”